Standing strong

Jaelyn Jimenez is ready to move on with her life and do normal things that 10-year-olds do. As summer approaches, she can't wait to go swimming and camping.

These are things she hasn't been able to do since she was diagnosed with leukemia at 5 but having cancer also gave her the gift of leadership, a skill she used Friday night to lead fellow local cancer survivors around Eastern New Mexico University's Greyhound Arena at the 16th annual American Cancer Society Relay For Life in Portales.

"I was nervous because I'm not used to being around a bunch of people," Jimenez said.

But she overcame her fears and held her head high as she held up the banner during the survivor walk because she said she knew those people had fought to survive just like her.

CMI staff photo: Christina Calloway

Reece Hamann, 10, of Portales kisses Harley, a pot belly pig. Harley's kissing booth was one of the more popular fundraising events at Relay For Life Friday night at ENMU's Greyhound Arena.

In the fall, Jimenez will return to Valencia Elementary School, but she can't wait to get a jump on the activities she's missed since she's been sick.

"I want to have sleepovers because I haven't got to do a lot of that stuff since I've been in the hospital," Jimenez said. "I've been strong because my family's been helping me and pulling me up."

Following Jimenez was a smile that gave a glow that reached across the arena, a smile from a survivor who has been cancer-free for 15 years.

Mary Ann South of Portales kept up with other survivors using her walker as she circled the Greyhound Arena.

South, 80, was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in 1998.

"That was my 65th birthday present," South joked.

South is a former pediatrician who's used to being on the other side of the stethoscope. She said one of her most memorable experiences as a doctor was being one of the attending doctors to David Vetter, also known as the "Bubble Boy," a Texas boy who became famous for living in a sterile environment because he was born with severe combined immunodeficiency.

After all her traveling adventures in the medical field, South decided to retire in Portales.

She said she may not be as physically strong as she used to be, but fighting cancer has strengthened her spirit.

"There hasn't been anything else to do other than fight," South said.

Walking wasn't the only way to raise money for cancer research and wigs for cancer patients Friday; the night was filled with fundraising activities including silent auctions, hula hoop contests, bake sales and even a pot belly pig kissing booth.

Joy Thompson of Portales didn't mind volunteering her pet pig Harley for her "Kiss 4 the Cure" booth.

CMI staff photo: Christina Calloway

Relay For Life of Portales Junior Chair Jaelyn Jimenez, far left, helps lead the survivor lap, the first lap of the event.

Relay For Life of Portales Chair Mark Clark signed up prominent members of the community ,including Mayor Sharon King, City Councilor Keith Thomas and others to kiss the pig.

The person who received the most money in the bucket with their name on it at the floor of the booth had to kiss the pig.

"I thought this would be a good idea. I go to relay every year," said Thompson, who's grandfather died from cancer. "People would love to see the mayor kiss a pig."

Others paid $1 to kiss Harley, who goes any place there's food, said Thompson.

"I did this because every little bit helps," Thompson said. "We've all been affected by this disease."

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